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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review II.

E-M5 is not just about the looks. Image quality is improved.

E-M5 is not just about the looks. Image quality is improved significantly.

This is the first article on this site, that is dedicated more to the practical aspects of photography and particularly to the technology behind the image making process. For my first camera review I have chosen Olympus OM-D E-M5 digital camera, a nice example of a retro looking modern design, that also serves as a great preview of the future camera designs.

Please keep in mind that there is no particular testing methodology involved in these articles, only subjective and personal opinions based on practical experiences.

 

 

Image Quality

Image quality is of course dependant on the image chain as a whole, including operator’s technique, hardware induced vibrations, image elements alignment, optical properties of lenses … Every aspect of previously used 12 MP sensor is slightly improved, but where almost a quantum leap has been made it is the area of usable dynamic range which adds a significant 2 stops improvement across the range. This tiny 16 MP Sony made sensor is surprisingly good and it is able, when used at base ISO settings, to hold its ground even against such a formidable competitor as a full frame Canon.

Four thirds sensor size is still a limiting factor when it comes to higher ISO settings, but in this iteration the results at least are useful and rendered with natural looking grain-like structure. Nominal settings go all the way up to ISO 25600, but I would have stopped at ISO 6400 where, with some noise reduction in post processing, usable results can still be achieved if required.

All this observations were made while using raw (.orf) files, but even for JPG only shooters Olympus has a lot to offer. Set it on Vivid, use exposure compensation when necessary and you will get a nice colorful print ready file. I also set “Keep Warm Color” white balance setting to OFF.

There is also the aspect of an image chain as a whole where this E-M5 shines above competitors. Efficient 5-axis image stabilization available with every lens (including ancient legacy lenses through adapter) when paired with some outstanding m.zuikos such as 12mm/2.0 and 75mm/1.8 gives you handhold able photographic possibilities previously unimaginable.

Dynamic range is impressive for a sensor of this size.

Dynamic range is impressive for a camera sensor of this size.

 

Usability

On the usability scale the greatest camera of them all would be the one that would interfere in the photographic process the least. Unfortunately E-M5 is very far from this ideal. User interface is not conceived in a way to be unobtrusive. It looks like this hardware and its great potential is being crippled by operational concept that sprung up from lower spheres of compact cameras instead of getting its own treatment.

Most of my life I have been using Canon 1-series cameras, so you can imagine that it was quite a cultural shock to me, when I saw all the variety of pictograms blinking in the viewfinder. Then I have pointed the camera towards a group of people and suddenly a cluster of white rectangles out of nowhere have started to follow them around while covering their faces. For a moment I felt like I was hovering high above Afghanistan in an Apache Longbow helicopter engaging multiple targets. Hellfire missiles select … At first the kid in me was quite fascinated by the technological wonders of today’s cameras, but just a couple of moments later the only thing left in my mind was: “I have to switch off everything!”

Backside of the camera is more problematic regarding controls.

Backside of the camera is more problematic regarding controls.

There are 3 types of EVF-styles available, but all of them are somewhat flawed implementations. Types 1 and 2 are using classic DSLR type information outside of image frame and would be a logical choice for serious photography if properly done, which they are not. EVF has 800×600 dots available, but they are not used very effectively. Considering the real estate, the image field itself is too small and all the information is rendered way to tiny to be usable. There is plenty of space for larger fonts so why not make a use of it?

Curiously, though, only Type 3 EVF style is available, when EVF auto switch is set to OFF. I personally prefer this option. Using manual EVF switch button reduces the delay and also eliminates accidental switching by your hand or camera strap when using 3” backside display on tripod.

Standard eyepiece EP-10 is way too small to make the viewfinder usable on a bright sunny day. Upgrade to optional EP-11 is essential for that kind of photography.

Optional EP-11 Eyecup is recommended when shooting in sunlight

Optional EP-11 Eyecup is recommended when shooting in sunlight

E-M5 uses 35-point area auto focus with excellent across the frame coverage. When using backside display, AF point selection is solved brilliantly via touch screen, similar to what you are used to do on your smart phone. On the other hand AF point selection while using built-in EVF lacks reliable dedicated controls to be taken seriously. AF response is class leading and nearly immediate in static mode, but unfortunately quite useless when subject tracking is required.

9 fps shooting mode makes this camera also an interesting choice for occasional sports photography, at least when your subjects are predictable and pre focus technique can be applied.

By far my favorite feature of this camera is LIVE BULB. When selected, image can actually be previewed while it is being exposed. It is still an early implementation, but incredibly fun to use while doing long exposures of changing subjects such as trails of light and fireworks.

 

Continued in Part III.

 

 

© 2013 The Unpublished Journal by Peter Mlekuž, All Rights Reserved

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review III.

Olympus OM-D is a promising forward looking system

Olympus OM-D is a promising forward looking system

This is the first article on this site, that is dedicated more to the practical aspects of photography and particularly to the technology behind the image making process. For my first camera review I have chosen Olympus OM-D E-M5 digital camera, a nice example of a retro looking modern design, that also serves as a great preview of the future camera designs.

Please keep in mind that there is no particular testing methodology involved in these articles, only subjective and personal opinions based on practical experiences.

 

 

Conclusion

As a conclusion I can say that this “Maitani reborn” E-M5 is a great choice for anyone looking for a quality lightweight image recording device. It is no brainer, if your experience is limited to compact cameras and you are looking towards an interchangeable lens camera system to expand the possibilities. Top of the line M.Zuiko’s are known to be quality lenses and also a somewhat future proof investment. On the other hand, if you are downsizing from a DSLR, you will have to accept some compromises, even if there isn’t much that couldn’t be done with this camera system, when you become familiar with it.

 

Towards Olympus OM-D E-M7

Olympus OM-D E-M7 is, as of today, still an imaginary non-existent camera. I have absolutely no idea what goes on in the minds of Olympus camera construction teams, but here is my take on the subject.

I would like to see the return of the oversized image sensor since I still prefer 2:3 image aspect for my shots. Oversized Live MOS chip, similar to the one used in a Panasonic GH2, would be a welcome solution for retaining maximum image quality and same usable lens angle at other than the four thirds native 4:3 ratios. How about going all the way from a 16:9 to a square 1:1 format and all within the boundaries of a four thirds image circle. I’m sure that 5-axis IS could still be implemented on only a slightly larger sensor.

Overized sensor would maximaze image quality with alternative ratios

Oversized sensor would maximaze image quality when the use of alternative ratios is required

Electronic viewfinder (EVF) is one aspect where E-M7 will see improvement for sure. Logical and easiest choice would be to go for an improved EPSON Ultimicron L3F04X-8x LCD module with a 1024×768 resolution as compared to current 800×600 solution. This means a 64% improvement in image quality alone, but also a brighter image, which is not without importance. This new panel has nearly the same mechanical properties as the current one used in E-M5 meaning no need for a significant camera redesign and of course less costs. Since a recent financial marriage with Sony Corporation there is also a possibility of future OLED solutions, but for E-M7 that would be probably too soon.

What kind of improvements can we expect in E-M7 and E-M9 ?

What kind of improvements can we expect from E-M7 and E-M9 OM-D cameras?

So now we have native 2:3 aspect capable Live MOS sensor and EVF that can render 1024×683 sized image without any distracting information being overlaid, except selected AF-point, while the 1024×103 area below remains for displaying relevant data. Perfect!

Auto focus tracking abilities are also in a need for an improvement. Intermediate solution would probably be increasing processing speed, but for a significant break thru a whole new approach to the matter will have to be invented. There are several patents already filled with a possible solution around the corner. In 2011 Olympus came up with a patent for a sensor which uses micro lenses of different heights. If this can be implemented without negative effects on the image quality this is definitely one of the more promising ideas.

AF also needs improvement on the side of the ergonomics if OM-D camera’s are to be taken seriously. A place for a joystick controller must be found, also an essential AF-ON or a similar customizable button should be situated where it can be easily reached and held all the time. Eye control system is also worth a consideration as a viable alternative for a camera in this segment of the market.

Captain, we are receiving way to much static!

Captain, we are receiving way to much data! Our systems will overload!

Getting rid of the physical shutter curtains must be in the books for a future OM-D model beyond E-M7. Global shutter with unheard of speeds of 1/20.000 of the second while being fully synchronized with dedicated flash units. Not to mention frame rates limited only by the image processor’s capabilities.

There is also one relatively easy way of making this fictional E-M7 so much more useful in practical terms. A simple addition of at least 3 memory banks of custom settings to the mode dial would make a lot of difference and in a good way.

This concludes my personal view regarding the future possibilities of this promising OM-D system of compact and lightweight lens interchangeable mirrorless cameras. Lens choices are already plenty and if only micro FourThirds would be understood more as a projected image circle instead of being restrained by its 4:3 boundaries, it would create an interesting imaging world of its own. Think tiny little Hasselblad-like camera with a square sensor and a set of Voigtlander f/0.95 Nokton lenses for connoisseurs of compositional requirements offered by a square image. A dedicated 4K 16:9 or even 21:9 video cameras. Even a silly idea like a “Tondo” camera with circle images for the Michelangelo in you, might one day come to life, with a whole industry behind it; circle image frames, albums, maybe even perfectly round tablet computers. O.K. I’m just kidding with that last one … or am I?

 

End of this article

 

 

© 2013 The Unpublished Journal by Peter Mlekuž, All Rights Reserved

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